Category Archives: Ministry and Church Life

Is There a Place for Apologetic Ministry Within and Without the Church?

ImageSeemingly irreconcilable conflicts are inherent to opposing world views, and at the center of them is Christianity. Often assumed is the specious idea that faith and reason are mutually exclusive. And this illusion is not going away in the foreseeable future. From this we learn that our objective as Christians is two-fold. On one hand, we must minimize the currently surmounting confusion in the skeptical mind by offering answers to difficult questions, while at the same time demonstrating to all that faith and reason needn’t be reconciled, for they are friendly neighbors in the biblical system of thought. In this series I will attempt to accomplish both of these objectives by way of a  limited case study I conducted recently. Firstly, I will identify the three most common questions raised by twelve people I interviewed. Secondly, I will interpret the cause of the questions. Thirdly, I will answer them. And finally, I will discuss the solutions that I believe best address the root of these issues.

1.1. What is going on in my church/community?

The questions that have come to me through my interviews in and out of our church community are numerous, but there are common threads that connect them and which allow me to narrow them down to three primary categories. They are 1.) the problem of sin, 2.) the problem of suffering in the world, and 3.) the problem of freewill.

1.1.1. The Problem of Sin

Pertaining to sin, the questions were about what it is and why it exists. Specifically, why did God give man the potential to sin, or at least after sin entered the world, why didn’t God simply eradicate it? Must sin continue as the cause of so much trouble today? One interviewee preceded Adam’s fall (Gen 3:6) with a question about Lucifer’s creation and his eventual banishment from heaven (Isa 14:12). Why did God create Lucifer if He knew that he would fall into sin, lead a celestial rebellion, and consequently become the great tempter and catalyst to man’s sin? Immediately following this came the logical perplexity for why God didn’t destroy Satan immediately. Because these questions all are so closely related to one another in that they deal with sin’s nature and origin, I have put them together under the single heading “The Problem of Sin,” which I will discuss shortly.

1.1.2. The Problem of Suffering

The problem of suffering, and why there is so much of it, must be the single most popular criticism against the existence of an omnipotent and loving God. Permeating this topic were similar questions pointing to specific instances of suffering, such as war, famine and sickness. The troublesome part for most of those interviewed was not so much why suffering exists, per se, but rather if God is all-powerful and good, why don’t we see Him doing anything about it? Once again, given the related nature of these questions, I have chosen to place them together under the single heading “The Problem of Suffering.”

1.1.3. The Problem of Freewill

Interestingly enough, this last question, “Does man have a free will?” is in a sense more of a doctrinal issue than it is apologetic. Doctrinal because it rises from the face of Scripture specifically, but still apologetic because some atheists (i.e. Sam Harris) deny that man has a free will at all. Human beings are nothing more than animalistic machines with refined behavior. Therefore I believe it is fitting to address the problem of free will here, within the context of an apologetics study, for two primary reasons. First, because it was a common enough question asked in the interviews for this case study. Second, and perhaps most importantly, because freewill lies very much at the crux of the other two questions listed, the “Problem of Sin” and the “Problem of Suffering.”

In my next post, part two of this three-part series, I will address the eyeopening socio-cultural influence behind these questions, which inevitably overflows into the context of church life. Stay tuned and let me know what uThink!

The Perfect Diaper Bag

The Perfect Diaper BagFriends, I hope you get a chuckle from the title of this post (not to mention the guy in the picture). Although today is Monday, and I would have loved nothing more than to sit back and post a little something on one of the endless array of subjects that peak my (and I think yours too) interest, what time I did have available for writing needed to be applied to our MUCH-overdo update on our primary ministry here.

 

Because uThinkology is part of our overall ministry, and the site has a dedicated page for our updates, I felt it was appropriate to include this November news letter as a post. So here it is, our latest update in PDF on our ministry and family in Treviso, Italy. I hope you will take a few minutes to see what is happening in our lives and in this part of the world. Just click here or on the “Ministry Updates” tab above on uThinkology’s site header. You’ll be able to open the PDF in your browser. You can also choose to download it if you like.

Thanks for stopping by uThinkology. And remember, you are what uThink!

Blessings,

Mark Nigro

Creation, Evolution or Both? A Visual Concept Map on the The Origin of Life

Origin of Life

A visual concept map on the three views for the origin of life

Today’s post is a mind-map entitled “Three Views on the Origin of Life.” I created this map to use as a visual guide for myself and for the congregation during Sunday morning’s message. Click on the image to enlarge it.

For the presentation, I broke the map into 15 sections, projected them as slides and walked the congregation through each main point. Visual presentations are proven to aid in learning and memory retention, so lately I’ve really made an effort to utilize them. On this map you will see dotted lines and arrows revealing the relationships and contrasts between the three views. It isn’t intended to be exhaustive, rather a brief overview that points to the soundness of Creationism’s view.

Easier said than done, however, with such massive subjects as creation and evolution. Choosing what to target and then fitting it into a 55 minute message (with translation from Italian into English) was nothing short of a miracle. It was a lot of work, but also a whole lot of fun. I hope you find it useful too.

I like employing mind-maps in my study preparation because they basically are a circular outline that read from the 1:00 o’clock position round clockwise. This provides a complete view of everything you need to cover, all on one page and in context, but (preferably) very succinctly. You get the whole “picture” if you will. It is freeing because one is not forced into a linear approach. I find that I don’t always think linearly, and, in fact, most people don’t.

At first, the apparent “busyness” of the map may seem overwhelming, but in reality it is very simple and logical to follow. Have a look and see if you can get the gist of it. To give credit where credit is due, I used a trial version of “Inspiration 9” by Inspiration Software ©.

 

A voice crying in the WordPress, or at least wanting to!

I felt I ought to let you know why there’s been such silence and what is coming down the pipe at uThinkology. As you can see, the waters have been a little still these last two weeks. I just really haven’t had the time to put together my thoughts. Well, that’s not entirely true. I have had the time, just not the right time. If you are someone who writes you will know exactly what I mean by that. There is a right and a wrong time to write. In the evenings after the children have been put to bed, I’m offered about one and a half hours, two max, before I follow in their wake. But during that time there isn’t much left of my brain to put words on paper, or on my laptop screen I should say. That is not the right time to write!

However, I am excited to say that I’ve got about a half dozen posts on the back burner covering a variety of subjects. I will be sure to put out at least one this week. If I make the coffee a little stronger, maybe I’ll even get two out there. Next up will be a post about Jesus and the children he encountered during his earthly ministry. Have you ever wondered why he pointed to them as the exemplars of his kingdom? I was so blessed by something my four-year-old son said to me the other day that it led to a lengthy look into the gospels, and then worked its way into a uThinkology draft.

Following that, we’ll return to the virtual pastor and the virtual church series to consider the effects our modern, technologically and market driven culture is having on the bride of Christ. I hope you’ll join the discussion when we get those up on uThinkology. What uThink on these subjects really does matter, and it will greatly affect your approach to church life.

Til then, every blessing!

The Virtual Pastor: Following a person, or a personality?

Recently I wrote an article on the subject of the Virtual Church (which you should read before moving forward with this post to see where I am coming from on certain points) and even at the time of writing it I had already been keen on future related posts. I received some interesting feedback as a result and I suspect there is more to come. Nonetheless, it would be unjust to consider that topic while overlooking the virtual pastor, who is by default a component of the virtual-church.

The virtual pastor is not a colorful vector image like those seen in computer-generated animations. Instead, he is the man whose Bible teaching is broadcasted from a church service to another predetermined location, typically a building with ample seating capacity. It is there that a congregation of believers gather infront of a screen to watch the message being given, thus forming a satellite church in the least flattering sense, if not better expressed as church via satellite.

This is a new form of pastoring, one that is hardly compatible with the biblical image of shepherding sheep. A pastor that is not present to tend the sheep is tantamount to a church not present to follow the pastor. Both are a contradiction in terms and defy the nature of their definitions (the church is a gathering; the shepherd is with his sheep).

Virtual methods may work well when they are employed by corporate America, but their regular usage in ministry only perpetuates an already unhealthy church mentality. After all, how should we expect congregants to perceive God’s design for his church when their pastor can serve them through the air waves? Or worse yet, when his job is perceived only to be the delivering of a message, the more common view of a pastor these days?

It all fails to model the personal aspect of a connected body for church life when the closest a congregation can come to their pastor is a digital image viewed from the front row. It goes against the very behavior a pastor would expect from the sheep. At this rate, a congregant may think it just as beneficial to skip service and watch online from the comfort of home. At least they’ll save on gas consumption.

This article is not a rebuke to the pastors or ministries that are making use of technology where there is no flesh-and-blood alternative and as a temporary solution to a logistical problem. I do however find much fault with, and no reason for, a pastor who broadcasts himself to another location. A church must have its own resident teaching pastor. As we will see in a future post, the virtual pastor really isn’t a pastor at all according to Biblical terms. I question both the means employed to reach this end, and the end itself.

Because this topic is rather vast in scope, I will be posting the article in a few or more segments as a mini series. No matter how tightly I may try to write it, putting everything in one post would be too long, or incomplete at best.

Following are some of the issues I intend to cover in subsequent posts. I welcome your suggestions as well.

1. The Biblical definition and function of a pastor

2. The definition and application of ‘virtual’ in ministry

3. The biblical incompatibility of the ‘virtual’ nature with the living nature of church

4. The ethical and practical problems that ensue from a ‘virtual’ ministry

5. The justifications given by some to support ‘virtual’ ministry

6. Better alternatives to the broadcasted satellite church

The Virtual Church, Part One: Where is Modern Technology Leading the Church?

Modern technology has brought us virtual pets, virtual homes and virtual flowers. Yes, we can even have virtual children now. In fact, on March 5, one Korean couple was arrested for letting their real baby girl starve to death while they obsessively raised a virtual child in an online video game. It is so tragic and disturbing that it is hard to believe! But the truth is that people are losing touch with the warmth of reality, and instead, they are embracing a cold and detached alternative. And do you know what else? The church is not far behind in this trend.

Today, church-life faces a subtle threat to its overall health. It comes not as an external enemy, but an internal anomaly. It is the fast-spreading mentality of believers who would argue that faithful attendance and participation in the local body is really not important, neither for themselves nor for the whole of the local church. Their presence just doesn’t matter. As far as their spiritual health is concerned, they’ll be fine. They’ll just turn on Christian radio, or internet streaming. Maybe they’ll download an MP3 or flick through the Christian channels on cable or satellite television and just have church at home. And as far as their part of service in the fellowship, everything’s already been covered by the guys up front.

If, like so many believers do today, you view church as something passively to be observed and not actually participated in, then the case I will bring to the table in these posts will appear to be groundless. On the other hand, if you are willing to consider this topic through the lens of Scripture, you may just have to readjust not only your perspective, but also your involvement and attitude towards the body of Christ and the life of the church. Consider the meaning of church biblically. Does it ever refer to a sermon? A bible study? Even a building? Never. Certainly, these things are an essential part of church activity, but they do not constitute…the church.

The very word itself in Biblical language gives us the insight we need to remember. It is “ekklesia” and the New Testament is peppered with the word. Seventy seven times to be exact, with the majority of occurrences appearing in the Epistles. When Jesus spoke of the church in the gospels (Matthew 16:18), he referred to the universal church consisting of all true believers of every generation and in every part of the world. Location is irrelevant. In the other instances however, location is very relevant. The Apostles spoke of the church as specific groups of believers that met together in different places. To name a few, the church in Ephesus, the church in Galatia, the church in Corinth, Rome, Philippi etc. So we see that the meaning of the word has everything to do with the people who first of all are in Christ and secondly, who come together in His name somewhere locally.

In terms of definitions, church can’t be broadcasted by satellite nor can it be had from the comfort of our living room unless our living room is where the church actually meets. In many parts of the world, this is the case. Due to a citywide traffic block a couple of Sundays ago, we did exactly that for our church fellowship here in Italy. We held the service right in my living room for any who could join us, and it was a blessing. But for the people who unfortunately were too distant to come by foot, the best they could do was watch and listen online. Sure, it was better than nothing, but it was not the real thing. The real thing is active and not passive, it involves the rich blessing of ones presence where there is a warm touch. It is face-to-face fellowship and breaking of bread together. Handshakes, hugs, and sharing a laugh. Bottom line, it is a gathering. And that is the meaning of  ekklesia. So when a person says, “Let’s just watch online and have church at home,” what they mean is let’s listen to the message. A message is good, but it is not church.

Why nitpick over such terms? Because meaning matters folks. And our understanding of these things will determine how we live our lives. Those who think church is just listening to a sermon are not only an ocean’s distance from the Biblical meaning of God’s household (Ephesians 2:19), but they are very close to robbing themselves and the local church of the rich blessings and fruit God intends to produce through their presence and their participation. Both are vital, neither can be virtual.

For part two of The Virtual Church series, click on this link “The Virtual Pastor.” Or in the meantime just give the subject some thought. What do uThink about the direction modern life is taking the church?

The Vacant Prayer Closet

I’d like to put something out there to all of you for discussion today. As the title suggests, it has to do with our prayer closet. Not the physical place we go to pray in private, but the practice of prayerful communion with the Lord himself. For the vast majority of Christians, the prayer closet remains a vacant place.

Today as I was sending an email reminder to our church that tomorrow evening is our monthly prayer meeting, I was struck by the discouraging reality of how few people ever come to a prayer meeting. This is not a phenomenon unique to our fellowship, but rather is more of a problem that continues to plague the modern church. And more importantly, I believe, prayerlessness is largely the reason for the ‘sensate’ lives lived by the majority of professing believers in the affluent West.

So, I must ask some questions, which I hope you will help me to answer.

1. Why wouldn’t a Christian, if s/he is truly that, want to pray and commune with the Lord and Savior of his/her soul?

2. Why wouldn’t a true believer find joy and look forward with excitement to the opportunity of locking arms with other brothers and sisters in Christ for a time of corporate prayer together, as we see with the early church in the book of Acts?

3. Is the lack of corporate prayer indicative of a lack of private prayer?

4. Is prayerlessness a sign of carnality, or is it a sign of something else?

5. Do you struggle with private prayer, corporate prayer, or both? If so, why do you think this is the case? If not, what are the reasons you enjoy participating and what would you say to those who do not share your experience?

6. Do you pray and attend prayer meetings because you want to be obedient to the Words of Jesus and the Apostles as they exhort us in the Scriptures, but nonetheless you do it reluctantly? And if so, what is your experience after you have participated? How would you encourage others who struggle to overcome the complacency or resistance of the flesh?

I’ve got many thoughts I would like to share on this, and I hope to encourage more prayer in all our lives, but the topic would become a very large post. Instead, I’ll break it up into segments. In the meantime, rather than ranting from my soap box, I prefer to know what uThink. Click on the ‘comment’ link below, and post your thoughts. Let’s discuss together this most-important topic.

Blessings in Christ to you today and throughout the week!